Airport Security Redux

I seldom agree with Maureen Dowd. Indeed, when I do, I usually feel a need to rethink my position. But MoDo has this one exactly right:

It always makes me feel slimy and humiliated, as though I’m in one of those cheesy women-in-prison movies, with titles like “Caged,” “Slammer Girls” or “Reform School Girls.” First you have to strip, unzipping your boots, unbuckling your belt and unbuttoning your suit jacket while any guys standing around watch. Then you have to walk around in some flimsy top and stocking or bare feet. Then you have to assume the spread-eagled position. Then a beefy female security agent runs her hands all the way around your breasts, in between, underneath – again with guys standing around staring. Flying on business, I’ve gone through this embarrassing tableau two dozen times in airports all over the country in the last couple of months. I’ve been searched more than Martha Stewart. I watched a Transportation Security Administration screener brusquely insist that my friend take off her blazer even though she had on only lingerie underneath – a see-through camisole – and the man behind her was leering.

Airport screening procedures are more reactive than imaginative. There’s an attempted shoe bombing, so all passengers must shed their shoes. Two female Chechens may or may not have sneaked explosives onto Russian planes, so now some T.S.A. genius decides all women are subject to strips and body searches. I get flagged for extra security every time I buy a one-way ticket, which seems particularly lame. Doesn’t the T.S.A. realize that a careful terrorist plotter like Mohammed Atta could figure this out and use his Saudi charity money to pop for round trips even if the return portion gets wasted?


Somebody tell me what quantity of explosive material they have found through these strip searches, because I’ve got a hunch it’s zero. How many billions are they wasting on this?

Maybe we’re not at the Philip K. Dick level of technology yet. But how about some positive profiling? If airport security can have a watch list for the bad guys, why can’t it develop a watch list for the good guys? Can’t there be a database of trustworthy American frequent travelers who are not going to secrete things in their bras? After all, no one is going to sneak anything in there without our knowledge. Can they at least get a screen?

One would think. The current measures are not only clearly unconstitutional–government agents performing searches without probable cause or warrants–but expensive, intrusive, and aggravating. Further, they take away much of the benefit of flying for shorter trips, since one has to allow extra time for all this nonsense. Indeed, I chose to drive eleven hours from Northern Virginia to the folk’s place in central Alabama rather than pay $500 to fly partly because the post-Thanksgiving security at Atlanta was so ridiculous the last couple of years as to make the trip barely faster than just driving.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kate says:

    “unzipping your boots, unbuckling your belt and unbuttoning your suit jacket while any guys standing around watch. Then you have to walk around in some flimsy top”

    Or she could just use her head .. part of the solution to this is dressing sensibly, in a way that makes their job easier.
    If you find yourself in a “flimsy top”, well, babe… think harder next time.

  2. Attila Girl says:

    Mixed feelings: I mostly agree with Kate, but I do remember flying within six months of 9/11, and making a point of wearing a bra that didn’t contain any underwire (so as not to set off the metal detectors). I’d hate to have to peel down to a T-shirt in something like that.

    I live in the Southwest, so we drive everywhere and almost never fly. Sounds like I should be damned glad.

  3. John says:

    We’re only now seeing enhanced security measures at airports. During the 1980s, when I was assigned to the Middle East, our route home to the US was inevitably through Europe. Due to hijackings and other terrorist events at airports, security was most certainly enhanced.

    My pregnant wife would have her bulging belly and breasts checked out due to the prior history of belly and breast bombs being found on terrorist women. After PA-103, even our son’s diapers were checked out, as were his bottles, wipes, and toys.

    And whenever I’d travel with my passport–filled with Middle Eastern visas–I was guaranteed special security checks, even though it was a US Diplomatic passport.

    The intrusiveness of TSA screening is nothing compared to that in Israel, or India, for that matter, where an up-close-and-personal frisking is required on every flight, of all passengers. Only the Israelis seem to have regularized “cavity searches”, however.

    So, it could be worse than what TSA is doing. And of course, the sad fact of having a bomb smuggled aboard could be much, much worse.